GCA voices members’ dissatisfaction to Hyve’s Connect

Full throttle response highlights the meetings initiative’s shortcomings


The Greeting Card Association has responded swiftly to the strength of ill-feeling, exasperation and disappointment that’s running high among greeting card exhibitors and their retailer customers regarding Connect, the planned meetings concept launched at Autumn Fair, by sending a punchy email detailing its many shortcomings to show organiser Hyve Group.

It follows a meeting GCA ceo Amanda Fergusson held on Wednesday, 6 September, with Nicola Meadows, divisional managing director of Hyve, and Daniel Mayhew, event director of Spring Fair and Autumn Fair, during which she relayed GCA publisher and retailer members’ dissatisfaction with Connect.

Above & top: GCA ceo Amanda Fergusson (left) with Hyve Group’s Nicola Meadows at Autumn Fair
Above & top: GCA ceo Amanda Fergusson (left) with Hyve Group’s Nicola Meadows at Autumn Fair

Amanda has written to Nicola detailing the issues and strongly urging a resolution., with the letter beginning: “Connect fundamentally does not work for this show and frustratingly, as you highlighted, for reasons we identified last year,” reiterating how the GCA had voiced concerns about whether Connect would work for the greeting card sector when the concept was first mooted.

“We listened again to updates from your team in March this year, when we brought our council meeting, with many of the industry leaders, to Hyve’s offices; here we again expressed our concerns that it was too complicated, buyers like to plan their own time at a show, they are hard to get hold of and won’t engage with bookings, 15 minutes meetings are too short, people wouldn’t stick to timings, exhibitors would find it very hard to guarantee a named individual. And finally, of course, that exhibitors were extremely unhappy about being asked to fund the cost of the untried Connect system.”

Above & top: Brainbox Candy’s Ben Hickman used humour to convey the frustration many greetings exhibitors and buyers felt about Connect
Above: Brainbox Candy’s Ben Hickman used humour to convey the frustration many greetings exhibitors and buyers felt about Connect

While participation and payment for Connect was compulsory for those exhibiting at Autumn Fair, Amanda stressed that, despite these concerns: “The vast majority of the greeting card companies exhibiting put considerable effort into setting up Connect. Most spent several hours, many 1-3 days, setting up their profile and working through the alphabetical list of buyers registered (NB absence of buyers’ full addresses/postcodes complicated this task), reaching out and connecting to secure meetings.”

With Connect dominating conversations at the show, Amanda was well armed with the facts of how the new system did not deliver for the greeting card publishers exhibiting: “Publishers were requesting anywhere between 50 and 350 meetings, an average of 8.5 meetings were confirmed but, in most cases, buyers failed to show up for the meetings so the overall success rate of the number of meetings requested was 0.78%, an average of 1.5 meeting per exhibitor. By any measure this is a catastrophic failure.”

Above: Some of the Connect marketing shots
Above: Some of the Connect marketing shots

The letter also included a whole long list of bullet-pointed feedback from publishers and retailers which highlighted Connect’s failings for the greeting card sector.

This included how “the buyers and exhibitors felt ‘bullied’, ‘bombarded’ by ‘aggressive emails’ (words that were repeated a lot)”, and how “Connect turned away many buyers; lots of examples of people deciding not to come to the show because it was too complicated/they couldn’t work out how to register/I had to register by August so missed the date/I’m too busy to work it out” plus there were technological problems with the App.

While the letter acknowledges Hyve needs to innovate and that there is support for this – hence the effort exhibitors put in in the hope that Connect would work – and accepts that it could be appropriate for other markets “such as IT programs, cars, or where buyers engage with exhibitors in a different way and appointments are the norm”, Amanda points out this is not how the greetings sector operates.

Above: Visitors seemed thin on the ground
Above: The Buyers’ Lounge and entrance to Greetings & Stationery

“At Autumn and Spring Fair many of the exhibitors are selling many 100s of SKUs, often with low value, and UK buyers like wandering the halls; so this format just doesn’t work for either buyers or exhibitors,” stressed Amanda in her letter.

With trade shows being so important to the greeting card industry and, indeed, with greeting cards being “crucial” to Autumn Fair and Spring Fair, Amanda made a strong call for action on the Connect front.

She said: “We would ask that you focus attention on re-engaging buyers, and pause Connect for Spring Fair so that people can continue to plan with confidence that there will not be a repeat of this week,” and she asked for “a mutually agreeable resolution” before the GCA’s Conference and AGM, which takes place on 28 September at Leeds Armouries.

Above: There was space for a great GCA display at Autumn Fair
Above: There was space for a great GCA display at Autumn Fair

As Amanda told PG Buzz: “It is positive that Hyve is open to hearing feedback. I sincerely hope they take on board the strength of feeling among publishers and retailers and can act upon them so that conversations at future Spring Fairs and Autumn Fairs will not be sullied by negativity as they were this week at the show.

“I am reassured by how supportive Nicola and the Hyve team are of the greeting card industry, as reflected by several of them attending our conference later this month.”

Click here to book your tickets to the GCA Conference and AGM.

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